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Difference Between Parole and Probation in California


It is easy to get the terms “parole” and “probation” mixed up, as they are two very similar forms of criminal offender supervision. Although they have similar requirements, there are several specific distinctions that make these types of supervision different, so it is important for anyone charged with a crime to understand what they mean.

The primary distinction between probation and parole is related to the procedure. When an offender is put on probation, it is ordered by the courts. The purpose of probation is to allow an individual to promise good behavior in lieu of jail time. Once on probation, a probation officer monitors the individual’s behavior.

Parole is a form of supervision granted to an inmate who is already in prison serving time for a criminal conviction. The individual can be paroled through a hearing in front of the parole board and released from jail either permanently or temporarily as a means of completing their sentence.

How Does Probation Work in California?

In California, probation is a common legal process that combines rehabilitation opportunities with control to allow individuals to avoid imprisonment. If the offender meets necessary conditions of behavior and other conditions, a judicial officer or a judge may grant them probation. It is important to note probation is only granted to individuals who commit non-violent crimes and is only permitted for first-time offenders.

When a convicted individual gets probation, they are not sent to prison but are able to remain in the community, as long as they engage in ethical conduct and do not commit any further crimes. Failure to abide by the conditions of probation results in the person being sent to jail.

Conditions of probation vary depending on the type of crime and its severity and may include requirements such as community service, restrictions on alcohol and drug use, and paying fines. There is both “informal” probation in California as well as “formal.” These types of probation differ in the type and amount of supervision the offender must undergo. Oftentimes, formal probation is required for felony charges, while the penalty for misdemeanors is informal.

When an individual violates their probation in California, they must attend a probation violation hearing, where the courts determine whether to revoke their probation and send them to jail, continue their existing probation under the same conditions as before, or keep them on probation with new conditions.

How Does Parole Work in California?

Parole law in the state of California is constantly evolving to meet current needs. In most cases, an inmate who is granted parole has already served part of the jail sentence they received in court. They must go before the parole board, and if they are granted parole, the board sets up conditions they must abide by to be permanently or temporarily released. Some of the conditions they must adhere to may include avoiding contact with certain individuals, attending meetings with a parole officer, ensuring others’ safety, and obeying the law, among other things. Inmates are only granted parole by the state of California if it is reasonably certain they are ready to return to their community, both positively and constructively.

When a convicted offender is placed on parole, they are required to serve their community and abide by the rules the parole board sets forth, or else they will be sent back to prison. If an inmate is serving a life sentence, they are only eligible to be granted parole after they have served a specific portion of their sentence and the parole board decides they are able to adhere to certain restrictions and live in society. In most cases, individuals are given parole for periods of three to five years. However, there are situations in which a person may be on parole for up to ten years.

Anyone who is able to avoid all or part of their jail sentence through probation or parole should make it a priority to adhere to all of the conditions placed on them so they can complete their term in their community and not behind bars. Once parole or probation is completed, it may even be possible for the individual to have their criminal record sealed.

Call on an Attorney You Can Trust

If you are facing criminal charges or currently serving a sentence in jail, you likely have many questions about your eligibility for probation or parole. The professionals at the Law Office of Jacqueline Goodman have the experience to guide you through the legal system. Visit our website today to see how we can help you.



A: Probation and parole often have similar requirements, but they are different in several significant ways. Parole is typically granted to an individual who is already serving jail time, while probation is granted by the courts as an alternative to going to jail. Probation allows the offender to remain in society and have their behavior monitored by a probation officer, while parole is granted by a parole board and allows a person to be released from jail before the end of their sentence.


A: Some of the factors a parole board looks at to determine eligibility include:

  • Chances for successful integration into society

  • The opinion of the crime victim

  • The inmate’s lack of insight

  • Psychological evaluations

  • Age

  • History of violence

  • Display of remorse

  • Efforts they have made toward rehabilitation, such as treatment, mentoring, and education

  • Adherence to prison rules and regulations

  • Parole recommendations made by the sentencing judge

  • Any heinous conditions pertaining to the crime committed

  • Motivation for committing the crime

  • Severity of the offense


A: Probation officers are tasked with policing the behavior of the individuals whose cases they handle, as they assist them in succeeding in their communities. Part of their job duties may include interviewing family members and conducting home visits, as well as the following:

  • Documenting visits and writing pre-sentencing reports

  • Assessing progress, administering drug tests, and following up on treatment plans

  • Ensuring offenders are abiding by their terms of probation

  • Interviewing offenders and recommending sentencing conditions to judges


A: Although types of parole may vary between federal, state, and local jurisdictions, there are typically three types, including:

  • A prison inmate completes their entire sentence with no reduction for “good time.”

  • An inmate faces the board and is granted parole before their parole date. This is often reserved for model prisoners.

  • Also referred to as “good time,” this type of parole rewards inmates with time off their sentence for periods of good behavior. These “good time” days accumulate and are subtracted from their sentence.

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